The US Air Force will include both the U-2 spy plane and Global Hawk unmanned system in their FY16 budget request, but will once again ask to retire the A-10 Warthog, sources tell Defense News.
Both the Global Hawk and the U-2 perform the high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) mission, and for several years the Air Force attempted to retire the Global Hawk in favor of the U-2, claiming the older platform was still cheaper and had greater capabilities than the Global Hawk.
In its FY15 request, the Air Force flipped, arguing that per-flying hour costs had come down enough on the Global Hawk that the unmanned system was now the cheaper option. The service claimed that retiring the U-2 could save $2.2 billion. Those savings dropped dramatically, however, when factoring in the costs for needed upgrades to the Global Hawk that would allow it to fill current U-2 capabilities.
It appears the service has now given up on plans to retire either aircraft, and instead will request funding for both.
“In the budget they got the topline relief to keep both U-2 and Global Hawk,” one source with knowledge of the budget said. “OSD put it in for the FY16 budget proposal.”
Also included in the budget request are “modest” upgrades to the U-2 technologies, the source said.
A second source, also familiar with the budget, noted that the number of current and potential conflicts around the world, from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to ongoing operations against ISIS and the continued growth of China as a military power, may have made the case for the service that both high-altitude assets are needed.